Listening is very challenging. It goes beyond understanding the logic of words to hear the cry of the meaning of life behind those words. However, the positions that we cling to, the illusions of life, the prejudices and privileges that we are bent on justifying prevent us from hearing the music or rather the cry of life behind the logic and sometimes incoherent logic of words in others. It is against this background that it becomes imperative to take a cursory look at the prevalent conflicts occasioned by land and resource grabbing in Africa.

That the grabbing of land and other resources have negatively affected African rural communities and their environments have become recurrent decimal of disembodied statistics in the eyes of the International community. The new dimension is the courage and insight with which the affected communities are standing up for themselves against the unjust invasions of their lands under the guise of development programs. It has even been questioned in some quarters whether communities have the “Right to say NO” to an investment that is meant to enhance their living conditions, but there is next to nothing said about the veracity of this so-called development in delivering on their promises.

It has become an established principle of sustainable grassroots development that the consent and participation of the beneficiaries cannot be ignored. A corollary to the preceding is that the investments in African rural communities that require large scale acquisition of land must involve a prior and free informed consent of the communities. The rules of engagement must allow for a YES or NO as possible uncoerced outcomes. It means that in as much as the communities reserve the right to dispose of their natural wealth and resources freely; they equally reserve the Right to choose otherwise. The challenge to investment actors and their agents in the consultation process is the disposition to accept a NO from the community as a possible outcome and remain respectful of the Right of the community to make their choice. In other words, both the Right of the community to dispose of their natural wealth and the Right to say NO are both sides of the same coin of free and informed consent, otherwise it is coercion. As Immanuel Kant, Prussian-German philosopher postulated on human freedom, only choices unadulterated by pressures from within (driven by desires) or coercion from without, i.e. embedded in moral autonomy, confers dignity on the community. All other choices are not free but Heteronomous.

Therefore, the investment actors in the consultation process, if they are authentically interested in the development of the local communities, must respect the genuine human autonomy of the beneficiaries. Human persons are only truly free when they can express themselves from the designs in the deep recesses of their hearts. This inalienable freedom is the compass of human dignity and the true expression of universal human rights in each human being.  In practice, this may mean a rejection of any development drive in any part of the African continent, even when it comes with an avalanche of goodwill on the side of the investors.

On the other hand, the distrust and resistances that investors are facing from local communities in Africa may be the backlash of historical syphoning of the resources of the continent under the cloak of emancipating the people from poverty. The unending conflicts in many African countries, Nigeria’s Niger Delta, Congo Democratic Republic and others, are evidence of development drives that have left the locals in a worse state. This state of affairs places a burden on the investors to re-write some of the ugly past experiences by demonstrating that their presence signals real change through a pathway of inclusive dialogue. Expectedly, progress will be slow and painstaking, but it is the pathway to authentic and sustainable development.

Here, at AEFJN, we reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental right of all humans to the freedom of expression and their right to have their say in development processes that will affect how they live and work, and also affect their forebears. We reaffirm our support for all the authentic efforts to lift African communities out of their poverty and give them more dignifying lives. We commend the multinational conglomerates and organizations that are actively engaged in the quest of a better world and who have Africa as the focus of investments. In conclusion, we reaffirm that the quest for a better world may be slow as it passes through uncharted paths that recognize the inputs of all stakeholders, irrespective of their economic strength. What this means in practice is that the Investment actors may have to look elsewhere for their investment; otherwise, the investment becomes a recipe for perpetual conflict in the communities as we have seen through the years. Their capacity to use other strategies to meet investment needs without impacting the needs of the communities is what makes us human beings and the contrast makes us animals in human skin.

Chika Onyejiuwa